Chapter Sixteen Creating and Sustaining High-Performance Sales Cultures

Sixteen Creating and Sustaining High Performance Sales Cultures

Creating and sustaining a high-performance sales culture is essential in achieving success in today’s highly competitive and global business economy. This chapter focuses on the leadership role that executives must fulfill to establish and maintain a high-performance sales culture. Societal cultures do not form overnight. They evolve over time. The same is true of sales cultures. It’s crucial that executives realize how important decisions they make—or don’t make—affect their sales cultures.


Creating a sales culture requires both vision and executive leadership. The vision should contain at least four elements that are consistent across all high-performance sales cultures (HPSC): sales process, sales management system, sales automation, and integration with marketing (see Figure 16.1).

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Figure 16.1: The High-Performance Sales Culture

  1. Sales Process. This element focuses on improving each individual salesperson’s performance by establishing a common base of best practices for everyone in the sales organization, from top to bottom (the sales executive, sales manager, and salesperson). These best practices include sales execution, opportunity planning, account planning, and territory planning.
  2. Sales Management System. With a sales process in place, this element gives sales managers information about key opportunities and overall selling health, allowing them to identify and correct both individual and systematic selling problems (analysis and coaching).
  3. Sales Automation. With a sales process and an integrated sales management system operating, sales force automation can improve individual salesperson efficiency in capturing and reporting key sales information. This element makes sure that high-quality sales information is available and accessible to salespeople, managers, and executives.
  4. Marketing. As the fourth element, marketing must be integrated with the overall selling effort to ensure adequate lead streams and coverage and to improve sales effectiveness by linking products and services to customer business problems. Marketing can help salespeople become business consultants (through specific product update and availability messaging, advertising and promotional collateral, and job aids [brand-driven Pain Chains, Pain Sheets, References Stories, and Value Propositions] in the context of the sales process).

Optimally, executives integrate all four elements into one successful operation and achieve their HPSC. Still, how do you get there? After all, you can’t get each of the four elements all working simultaneously from the beginning—as I said, cultures evolve over time.


If you look at the HPSC model in Figure 16.1, you’ll see that the executive has three options: (1) improve efficiency, (2) improve effectiveness, or (3) achieve a balance between efficiency and effectiveness. Each option leads to different results. Let’s look at each option separately.

Option 1 Improve Efficiency

In this option, an executive chooses to implement a sales process complemented by some form of sales force automation (SFA) or customer relationship management (CRM) system. This approach focuses on reducing the cost of sales transactions. This is the option that is chosen most often, but—and beware—it typically has a low level of success.

There are several reasons why. First, sales force automation that is not integrated with the sales management system seldom integrates with the business’s sales process. Second, the chosen sales process may be inadequate, which compounds the problem. Third, both conditions can exist together—an inadequate sales process that is poorly integrated with sales force automation.

Option 2 Improve Effectiveness

Executives who select this approach implement sales process and reinforce it with a sales management system. Option 2 focuses on increasing revenue. This effort requires a consistent disciplined approach over an extended period of time (for example, six to twelve months or longer).

For a number of organizations, Option 2 works better than Option 1, because executives are able to integrate their sales process (hopefully, a highly effective one) with their sales management system—and drive results without the expense or distraction that automation projects often bring.

However, some negatives lurk in this option. It is not a complete fix. Unless customer relationship management can be integrated with it, there will be huge gaps in the timely identification, analysis, and reporting of sales pipeline opportunities. Furthermore, sales management reporting will tend to be impaired by incomplete and disparate data and late reporting.

Option 3 Balance of Efficiency and Effectiveness

This is a long-term option. It will take time to get each of the four elements going. Here, executives choose to develop and integrate the sales process, the sales management system, and sales force automation with marketing (note the diagonal line in Figure 16.1).

The far-seeing executive who acts on this option usually achieves a balance of efficiency and effectiveness. This approach, which provides the benefits of the previous two options, requires that all the elements in the HPSC model be highly synchronized.

A Caution There is no one correct path, because every business is different. Clearly, the first option provides reductions in sales costs (with some effectiveness); the second option provides increases in revenue (with some efficiency); and the third option provides both sustained effectiveness and efficiency.

I strongly suggest that you focus first on your sales process combined with a sales management system and then have sales automation support these two key processes. Don’t compromise the way you do business just to conform to some inflexible automation system. The good news about many CRM and SFA systems today is that they are flexible. Many packages have user-defined work flow engines that allow you to integrate your sales process and sales management system into the software. This is very important. Automation should support the process, not the other way around.


Keep in mind that a proper sales process must have three characteristics. It must be repeatable, predictable, and scalable. In addition, salespeople and managers are more likely to use a sales process if it’s easy to use and is reinforced through sales tools or job aids. If a sales process is too complicated, salespeople and managers won’t use it. This is why some CRM systems are fraught with so many problems. It often becomes a garbage in/garbage out situation, where the only thing companies are automating is chaos.

Being repeatable means a company can use the same process over and over to achieve consistent results. Sales management should reward salespeople for consistency in making their numbers versus the big spikes in revenue, typically at month or quarter end.

Being predictable implies the use of Milestones to help the sales manager know where salespeople are in specific opportunities and know their pipelines. This knowledge helps to answer questions such as “Will I make my numbers this year, this quarter?” or “Is my pipeline balanced?”

Being scalable is important because sales organizations expand and contract according to economic cycles, product changes, marketing promotions, and changes in the size of a business. Moreover, the same sales processes should apply to any size organization, whether there is one salesperson or ten thousand.

Failure of Traditional Approaches

It never ceases to amaze me how often I hear executives say, “Sales is a mystery. Why can’t sales be managed like all the other departments?” I tell them that sales can be managed—with a sales process. They say, “We’ve tried that. We put all our salespeople through sales training, and it didn’t make any difference.”

Here’s what I find really happened behind the scenes. They held a one-day sales training event, but it didn’t stick. There’s a big difference in implementing an HPSC that includes a sales process as its cornerstone as opposed to a sales training event.

For many years, we’ve heard sales managers complain about the shortcomings of traditional sales training. Recently, Sales Performance International conducted a survey of 113 corporate sales executives to identify and analyze their complaints. We wanted to hear from these executives about the problems they were having with traditional training methods. Not only did we get a strong response, but we also gained some profound insights into how to help sales executives establish and maintain an HPSC.

One of the biggest misconceptions about creating an HPSC is that training is the key driver in sales performance improvement. As illustrated in Figure 16.2, the most important element in implementation is not the training event, but change management.

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Figure 16.2: Perception Versus Reality

When considering the importance of change management, three key drivers enable successful HPSC implementations:

  1. Design
  2. Training
  3. Implementation
  4. Design. Make sure you design a tailored implementation that encompasses all the elements of an HPSC. Ideally, all four elements (sales process, sales management system, sales force automation, and marketing) are involved if you want to achieve an HPSC.
  5. Training. Practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect. Training should involve salespeople, managers, executives, marketing, and anyone else in the company who interfaces with customers (for example, in technology markets, product and services technicians are frequently involved). Don’t waste your valuable investment.
  6. Implementation. Support your HPSC rollout. Let it be known that this is what the executives want. Measure it, and remember that people tend to do what they’re measured on.

There are sound sales processes, such as the new Solution Selling, that can help you overcome your problems with traditional sales training, but only if you appreciate the scale of change necessary and are committed to making it happen.


Installing a sales process will impact your organization in profound ways. As a result, implementation of a sales process must be managed as more than just a training event—it must be managed as an organizational change process. (See Figure 16.3, Sales Process Implementation.)

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Figure 16.3: Sales Process Implementation

How can you best effect change management in the implementation? First, decide on the people who are necessary to the project. You should consider including people from all areas who will help to effect the change. This can include sales, sales support, sales management, marketing, information technology, and sponsoring executives.

Is everyone already busy? Usually the answer is yes. How will you get them off projects they’re currently working on? You have to decide on your priorities. If you want to create an HPSC, people must be freed up to lead such change.

The first step in implementation is to analyze your sales organization. This analysis will help you see the potential barriers to implementation, and it will help you discover what is needed to avoid these barriers. If you’re completely transforming your sales function, your analysis will probably be quite extensive. On the other hand, if you’re only interested in incrementally improving your control of the sales process, a simple review of your organization may be all that is required.

The findings of your analysis will provide the agenda for the executive and management alignment that must take place in your development of an HPSC. Executives need to understand the objectives of the sales process improvement project, the potential barriers to success, the recommended actions to address those barriers, the specific role and actions expected of each manager during the project, and, most important, the specific metrics of success that the management team will use to judge the success or failure of the project.

To eliminate potential barriers to success, I recommend that you integrate the new process with existing systems. For example, it’s important to align the new sales process with your CRM systems, measurement and reward systems, hiring practices, and other aspects of the business. During the deployment phase, you can ensure maximum cultural compatibility by tailoring your implementation program content.

Concurrent with the integration phase, or shortly thereafter, you should then deploy the new sales process. Typically, this is accomplished through traditional training workshops, but it may also include e-learning or other media, depending on the needs of your organization.

After implementing the new sales process, you should plan to reinforce the process by coaching managers on how to sustain the new processes in the field. This may involve sales management training and the introduction of automated tools or CRM software, as required. To further improve adoption of the new process, I recommend periodic field review sessions. These sessions help field sales managers to observe and model effective coaching behavior, enabling them to sustain your new HPSC process in your organization.

Finally, you should measure the impact of the project, using the metrics originally identified during the management alignment phase. This will enable your executive team to determine the success of the implementation and make appropriate adjustments.


Creating an HPSC requires more than just conducting sales training, hiring the best salespeople that money can buy, and managing the implementation of sales process and supporting automation tools. Developing and creating an HPSC must be part of the value system that your company is based on—a value system that is so important that it guides your behaviors, decisions, and actions.

The only reason business exists is because of customers. Therefore, customers should be the focal point of everything your business does. This customer-focused philosophy must be the foundation for your value system and sales culture. After all, the source of sustainable value for most companies today is their ability to attract and retain profitable customers. The reason we create and sustain an HPSC is to do just that.

Executives who attempt to create HPSCs for short-term gains are misguided. If you’re not careful, you will create a culture that is temporary and jerry-rigged. Naturally, this type of sales culture will not last because it lacks a solid foundation—it has no value system.

To sustain an HPSC, it must first be grounded in something other than short-term gain or greed. I see it all the time—companies want change, so they bring in new executives who promise a better future. Many of these new executives, in order to make a name for themselves, attempt to kick-start the company with a new business model, complete with a dazzling new sales plan full of aggressive goals and programs. Frequently you’ll hear them say, “We must be aggressive in the marketplace, and we must create a sales team that won’t take no for an answer.”

Then they bring in the so-called best and highest-paid sales talent they can find. They train them, along with the holdovers from the former regime, in the latest techniques on “how to close business,” all the while thinking that this is the way to create an HPSC. Does this sound familiar? Where’s the focal point? What type of culture, if any, is being built?

Don’t be misled by short-term thinking. Remember your customers. Make the establishment of an HPSC more than just an objective for this quarter. Make it the heart of your sales organization, a part of your company’s value system. Then your customers will remember you not only for what products or services you offer but also by how well you provide them. Your sales organization will become as important a differentiator as any other aspect of your business. And that is a sustainable competitive advantage that’s hard to beat.

Creating an HPSC leads to effective and lasting change. In the end, it will continually reaffirm the potential of your business because it leads to higher levels of customer satisfaction, increased productivity, integrated work environments, and more profitable enterprises. Look at the marketplace around you. The competition and constant pressure for results is not going away. You have to compete and win day after day. With the right changes—implemented changes—you can realize high performance.

The New Solution Selling. The Revolutionary Sales Process That is Changing the Way People Sell
The New Solution Selling: The Revolutionary Sales Process That Is Changing the Way People Sell [NEW SOLUTION SELLING 2/E]
Year: 2003
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